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Nigeria may battle COVID-19 spike after doctors down tools

By Idowu Abdullahi

With dearths of manpower, unpaid allowances, and others grieviences put forward by resident doctors in Nigerian public hospitals, the country may face possible spike in coronavirus cases, particularly the recent Delta variant following the indefinite industrial action embarked upon by the medical experts across the nation.

The indefinite strike by the doctors which began on Monday amid rising coronavirus infections in Africa’s most populous country, was hinged on delayed payment of salaries and allowances on part of the government, among other issues.

Nigerian doctors frequently strike over what they alleged to be poor conditions of service. Last year, they walked out from their jobs three times, including over demands for an allowance for treating coronavirus patients.

As part of the preventive measures against a third wave of COVID-19, the Federal Government had last month put six states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja on red alert, saying there were signs of increase rate of the virus spread.

The government explained that Abuja and the six states, Lagos, Oyo, Rivers, Kaduna, Kano and Plateau, were placed on the alert following the confirmation of the Delta variant of COVID-19 and the rising number of infections and hospitalisation across the country.

The Presidential Steering Committee (PSC), through a statement released by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, further warned all states to heighten their state of preparedness and continue to enforce all protocols put in place, given the renowned greater ease of spread of the Delta variant.

But justifying the experts’ action on Monday, the President, National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), Okhuaihesuyi Uyilawa, said that the strike had started early on Monday and that the government had not reached out to the union since it gave notice of the job action.

Asked whether the strike would affect the COVID-19 vaccination drive, Uyilawa in a mobile phone text message said: “Hunger is worse than COVID-19. We have lost 19 members to COVID-19, with no death-in-service insurance.”

Nigeria has seen a rise in COVID-19 cases since mid-July. Some 174,315 cases and 2,149 deaths have been recorded since the outbreak last year, official data shows.

In a communique issued on Saturday, after a meeting of its national executive council, NARD said that salary shortfalls stretching over months, failure to pay some doctors COVID-19 allowances, and shortages of manpower in hospitals were among the reasons that had pushed its members to strike.

On its parts, Lagos State said that the decision by the doctors was hasty and appealed for restraint from NARD doctors in the state.

Resident doctors are medical school graduates training as specialists. They are pivotal to frontline healthcare in Nigeria as they dominate the emergency wards in its hospitals.

Uyilawa said that his union represented 16,000 resident doctors out of a total of 42,000 doctors in Africa’s most populous country.

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